‘Ghost in the Shell’ is Dying the Death It Deserves

This is not a review.

I refuse to share with you the inanity of this film. But I do have a few comments to address, outside of the failed efforts of Hollywood to understand why no one wanted to see this film, no matter how much they spent on it. If you’re curious, they spent $110 million dollars to make this film and the first week returned $60 million thus far. While these are early receipts, unless the movie blows up the rest of the foreign markets, the best anyone can hope for is to maybe break even. I’m hoping they don’t. It might encourage them to do something like this again.

Ghost in the Shell (film) is a 2017 American science fiction action film directed by Rupert Sanders and written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger, based on the Japanese mangaof the same name by Masamune Shirow. The film stars Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han and Juliette Binoche. Set in the near future where the line between humans and robots is becoming blurred, the plot follows a woman who has her brain placed in a cyborg body to become the perfect soldier, and who yearns to learn of her past. The film premiered in Tokyo on March 16, 2017, and was released in the United States on March 31, 2017, in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D.

This movie should die a thousand deaths, each more terrible than the last.

Major Kusanagi, a Tachikoma and Agent Batou of Section Nine

Major Kusanagi, a Tachikoma and Agent Batou of Section Nine from the animated versions of Ghost in the Shell, which boast superior stories in every way compared to this live-action bust.

It should die shamed by its insensitivity, its tone-deafness, its cultural blindness, the laziness of its hollowed-out attempt to create money on a far better movie written twenty years ago. The worst part of this real-life weaksauce approximation of the venerated anime Ghost in the Shell is its inability to find the core of the series, the question which drives any good story and bring that to the foreground. The movie is compared unfavorably to The Matrix.

But while the The Matrix was completely unknown to its movie audience it managed to make viewers ask: Do I really know what is real? Is my grasp of reality of an illusion? Would I even know? Is there any way to tell if my experiences have any bearing on reality? Questions which relate to the existential nature of being Human. The original Ghost in the Shell posited a world where man and machine careen toward each other at a breakneck pace with the ultimate fusion being someone like the Major, a Human being in a machine-driven body.

It should have been asking: Where is the ghost in the machine? Can a person retain their humanity when their is nothing left of them but their mind, which in theory is just construct, a byproduct of our biological interaction with the environment? Is the Major a machine pretending to be alive, or a dead person navigating the world from beyond the pale, riding a robotic horseman?

The original anime movies and series Ghost in The Shell posited humanity in varying degrees of cyber modification and with wildly different perspectives on this impending state of the Human Species. Adding insult to injury, as slow as our judicial system is, the pace of transformation simply created too many new circumstances that were not covered by laws, by ethics, or by cultural norms because they were simply too new, too many and too overwhelming.

The Laughing Man from “Ghost in the Shell: The Stand Alone Complex” – one of the more compelling arcs in the anime version of the series.

The anime series focused on criminal activity too far removed for normal police to consider dealing with because cyborgs were incredibly powerful, with abilities that placed them clearly into the range of superhuman. Those who embraced the machine and integrated their minds fully were gifted with control over our technological landscape making them impossible for conventional police to deal with.

This movie didn’t even scratch the surface of these ideas. It was a flat, barely interesting revenge story with insensitive casting, boring delivery by its actors and even if the CGI was brilliant (which in this modern era is to be expected) it badly replicated ideas which were dated in its original story. Many of the ideas for technology in the Ghost in the Shell series were state of the art when they first appeared, but now seem a little dated when recreated with modern audiences in mind. I think just retelling Ghost in the Shell for modern audiences might not have been enough given the cerebral nature of the series.

What’s wrong with taking a few risks, Hollywood?

I am a proponent of smarter science fiction movies but I recognize the anime series might have been too smart for most audiences. On the other hand, why not take a few risks? Queue up some story ideas based upon the anime’s more interesting and cerebral premises, couple them with some kick-ass action sequences for which the anime is known for and try to create something newer, something unexpected for both fans of the anime and newer viewers who didn’t even know it existed. This movie did neither. It created nothing new, it didn’t address any new territory; it danced around artificial intelligence, particularly robo-sapience in which one of the more beloved aspects of the show, the ever-curious Tachikomas could have been highlighted. My favorite element of the series was the budding robo-sapience of the Tachikomas: robotic support vehicles, cybernetic infiltration units and mobile weapon platforms. At the end of any day, each would share its knowledge with other members who may not have had the opportunity to go on the mission. Their social commentary on humanity, as a whole, was priceless.

Tachikoma's talking about what they learned today.

Tachikomas sharing their daily burst of information.

The movie avoided the potentially addictive nature of fully-immersive social media. In a world where even when you weren’t a cyborg, you could still interact in high resolution virtual-reality worlds and forms of social media. The anime challenged any number of futuristic ideas from hyper-advanced soldiers to invasive software capable of hacking your brain, disrupting your senses or possibly leaving your body completely for a life as a disembodied ghost in the machine…

The movie avoided any ideas which might have caused any audience member to have to rub two brain cells together. It didn’t require its viewers to have a single new thought about the potentials of a future where Human and Machine draw inexorably toward a day when there is no effective line between the two.

Whitewashing, ethnic insensitivity, and cultural blindness were the easiest of the sins this multi-million dollar mess could be accused of. Its real sins were a lack of imagination, a lack of exploration and an assumption that people don’t deserve movies which can challenge their world views.

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